Tick Tock

Keeping track of time

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Miniature Clocks at TimeKeepers

Watches are sooo last century. When was the last time you saw anyone under the age of 40 wearing a wristwatch? (Hmmm, wonder how many under-twenties have seen one?)

Which I frankly don’t understand, since turning my wrist a fraction and glancing down to see what time it is seems so much more convenient than digging my phone out of my purse or a pocket. And a watch, particularly a vintage watch, can be such a distinctive way of expressing your personality, or even your mood.

Once, during a tumultuous life episode, I was visiting TimeKeepers in Clayton and took a liking to a clean-lined Hamilton wristwatch with a beveled-edge crystal, priced at $200. I didn’t need a watch so, believe it or not, I resisted temptation.

But a few days later, I was harrumphing about my circumstances and telling myself it was “time to move on.” Inspiration struck. I bought the watch and had that phrase engraved on the back. As you may have guessed, I have little trouble rationalizing unnecessary purchases.

Semyon Ilyashov and his daughter, Ella Ilyashov

A quality wristwatch is Number Two on my evolving list of 10 Things You Should Always Buy Resale. (Unless, like my Batman watch, dating from the first movie, you buy it from a street vendor in Manhattan for $25. Then you ask the vendor if it comes with any kind of guarantee. “Lady,” he says, “it’s a $25 watch from the street.” “Oh,” I reply.)

My favorite place for vintage watches—and I don’t mean just my favorite place in St. Louis, I mean my favorite place anywhere—is TimeKeepers. Owner Semyon  Ilyashov and his daughters, Ella and Rachel, specialize in the repair and restoration of fine timepieces, clocks and music boxes. They also carry fine estate jewelry.

Semyon, the son of a Russian watchmaker, has been in business in St. Louis since 1979. He rarely comes to the counter, though I’ve sometimes seen him,watchmaker’s lenses perched on his nose, talking a customer who is obviously a collector—as in collecting watches costing tens of thousands of dollars. I usually talk to Ella, who is very kind in letting me look at watches when, with the exception of the “Time to Move On” watch, I haven’t purchased anything.

TimeKeepers does have sweet deals on pre-owned watches. A gold, 20-year-old Rolex Presidential was $7,500 the last time I visited, compared to $18,000 for a new version. A Patek Phillippe—among the crème de la crème of name-brand watches—was $4,500. Patek Phillippes start around $10,000 new, with prices rocketing into the stratosphere. I fell in love with a platinum ladies Hamilton from the 1930s, tastefully encrusted with 8 karats of diamonds for $9,500. Maybe I should have thought of the slogan “Tiime to Sparkle,” to justify that watch!

All watches at TimeKeepers come with a one-year guarantee and all repair work is done right there. There is a second TimeKeepers on Olive Boulevard.


A rare music-making machine at TimeKeepers

The Clayton store is worth a visit just to see Semyon’s vast collection of clocks and music boxes, ranging from tiny enameled bedside clocks to large music boxes that open to reveal ensembles of mechanical performers. Don’t even ask for prices—once Semyon gets his hands on a clock, he’s not very willing to let it go. The reason there are so many pieces displayed in the store, said Ella, is that there isn’t anymore room in his home.

Semyon did make an exception to his hold-on-to-it philosophy. When Ella had her first child, a boy, Semyon gave her an antique clock (she covets them as much as her father). A few years later, she wanted another one and Semyon told her, “You’ll get another one with the next child.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Ella told me at the time. I relayed that information to Semyon, who chuckled. “She’ll have another one,” he said. “She really loves the clocks.”

Ella’s daughter is now 10 years old.

Timekeepers Olivette · 9495 Olive Blvd Olivette MO 63132 · (314)991-0994
Timekeepers Clayton · 17 N Meramec Clayton MO 63105 · (314)721-4548 ·

Tomorrow: Tips for buying vintage watches


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